- 18 Sep 08, 01:11 PM
Tim Brabants is a big fan of any kayak, not just the kind in which he wins Olympic gold.
The world and Olympic kayak single 1000m champion also enjoys a spot of sea kayaking off the South African coast.
"I love going out on the sea. If you've got the skills and the fitness, you can enjoy it and mess around, and learn new skills," he says. "Like shark evading."
We have had hockey players with lions as training partners before, but kayakers racing sharks is a new one.
"I saw one when we were about 5km from the coast," says Brabants.
"He'd obviously come underneath us, and they say that for every shark you see, a hundred have seen you.
"You see one of those and you start paddling a bit harder."
I'm not sure I need to be hearing that. Having just taken up kayaking, I was looking for reassurances I'd come to no harm on London's tame canals, not nightmares of paddles wedged between the jaws of a Great White.
"The great thing is kayaking is such a cheap sport to get into," he tells me, wisely shifting the subject matter.
"The boats aren't that expensive, and if they're looked after they last forever. The boats I learnt to paddle in 21 years ago are still being used to teach beginners in.
"I started at Elmbridge Canoe Club in Weybridge in 1987, splashing around with the other kids, enjoying seeing the ducks and the wildlife.
"Then I saw people from the club going off to the Olympics in Seoul. I was lucky that the club I went to was successful - watching people go off to big races really spurred me on."
Those first impressions were made when Brabants was 10 years old. Twenty-one years later he still occasionally visits his old club, giving a new generation that same glimpse of glory.
Life post-Olympics for Brabants has been a media frenzy, by kayaking standards. No article about the man has been complete without mention of his other life as a doctor. Can you think of another Olympian whose day job is so prominent?
"I feel a bit of a fraud sometimes because I've not worked for so long," he says. "All these doctors are working anti-social hours while I'm out in Cape Town training in the sunshine.
"I've been out of touch for so long. When I talk to colleagues I graduated with, they're progressing their careers and doing really well - although they always say they'd rather be where I am.
"Sometimes it looks like I'm a bit of waster. I've done this medical degree, I graduated in 2002, but I'm only a year and a half on in terms of career progression.
"I set my standards high. I want to be the best kayaker in the world and I also want to be an incredibly good doctor. I think it's possible to be both, but not at the same time."
That's why Brabants has opted to go back to his job as a doctor after Beijing, just as he did after Athens. Or has he? I ask him how it'll feel watching the 2009 World Championships from a hospital, and there's a pause followed by nervous laughter.
"Weeeell... I might be there in 2009, we don't know," he admits, chuckling.
It turns out Dr Tim hasn't entirely turned his back on kayaking. The 2009 Worlds will be in Lake Banook, "a beautiful place" and scene of Tim's second senior world appearance back in 1997. For all the talk about getting his head down with medicine and passing some more exams, he just can't resist.
"After Athens I went back into medicine full time for 18 months. It was such an all-consuming career that I didn't really miss anything.
"But if I sat down and thought about it - 'the guys are at the Worlds now and I'm not there' - that was a bit strange.
"If I can find a job where I can train to a reasonable level, maybe I'll be there. If I compete at the Worlds next year it'll be at a lower-key event where I'm not expecting to win, but I can bring one of the younger paddlers on a bit more, in a crew boat, say."
When I very tentatively add a one-word question - "2010?" - all I get is more laughter and a sigh. Somewhere, an internal battle is raging. But there is absolutely no doubt about 2012.
"I'm definitely up for London. If Paris had won the bid I probably would have been quite happy to retire now as Olympic champion, but the option of becoming Olympic champion in London is quite appealing."
Brabants has been called the Steve Redgrave of kayaking, ready to bring on a whole new generation of talent. He's not sure if he has the medals for the moniker, but is delighted that kayaking is suddenly perceived as a British success story.
"Steve Redgrave showed Britain was successful at rowing, now we can show we're successful at kayaking.
"People were going off to the Worlds and not making finals when I was young, and that was accepted, that was how it was.
"We started to break down those barriers and show we can achieve things, and it made quite a difference. Hopefully I can encourage more people to get involved."
He can start with me, paddle at the ready. I'm not sure I'm London 2012 material, but I've signed up for my local kayaking club and as the world's newest canoeist, I might as well grab some tips from the world's fastest paddler.
"I'd say you've got a chance," he says, kindly. "Everybody's got a chance. Four years is a long time, relatively speaking, but it goes very quickly when you're involved in it.
"The guys on the team now were aiming more for London than Beijing. A few of them had a reasonable crack at Beijing, but didn't make it.
"Hopefully now they're inspired to do the hard graft and get to London."
If you, like me, fancy joining Tim Brabants on that London 2012 start line, you can find out more here.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites